RUDOLPH FISHER – The Conjure-Man Dies. Dr. John Archer & Sgt. Perry Dark #1 (*). Covici Friede, hardcover, 1932.  Reprinted several times, including:  Arno Press, hardcover, 1971, introduction by Stanley Ellin. University of Michigan Press, softcover, 1992; Poisoned Pen Press, softcover, 2022.

   The first Black detective novel. It is set in Harlem, involving the murder of a soothsayer.

   The author was a doctor who died by cancer aged 37. By proxy, he places a Dr. Archer, who lives across the street from the crime scene. Archer volunteers his scientific services to the aid of Detective Dart of the Harlem precinct. Local politicos made the recent choice to hire Black police officers, as better able to traverse Harlem’s cultural eccentricities.

   An excellent introduction by Stanley Ellin points out the interesting combination here of Van Dine inspired scaffolding, scientific induction and overlong exposition with Hammett-like precision in dialogue.

   What makes the book unique is its presentation of Harlem characters in their colorful vernacular of the times — a vernacular whose stark presentation may be inspired by Hammett but the content of which is entirely its own.

   Enjoyable mystery and worth reading even were it not an important historical document.

(*) The pair of detectives also appeared in the novella “John Archer’s Nose,” which was collected in The City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher (University of Missouri, 1987). This may have been its first appearance.